The Berenstain Bears® Financial Literacy Program – History and Background
THE STORY BEGINS over a decade ago. Many young people were not learning about budgeting or handling money at that time. So FMFCU took matters into its own hands and began developing a financial literacy program to help members.
Children were a key target in this effort. Why? School-aged children who are taught how to handle money early successfully use this knowledge for the rest of their lives. Rick Durante, vice president of education and FMFCU Foundation executive director, saw the entire financial literacy program grow by leaps and bounds since he joined the Credit Union in 1997.
Now it’s a multi-pronged effort, including student-operated branches, a Partners In Learning Celebration dinner honoring outstanding students and teachers, an impressive scholarship program, and more on the horizon. In the 2000s, FMFCU began running credit union field trips for kindergarten to third-grade students, teaching them to Save, Share, Spend, and Earn. To reinforce this important message and to improve the program, Rick added a storybook. He selected The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble With Money. “The children relate to this and know The Berenstain Bears. Their parents do, too,” Rick says. The FMFCU Foundation donates the books. The students go through the book in class with their teacher, then visit the Credit Union.
A change in plans
Seeing the great response by students to the reading of Trouble With Money, John Unangst, president and CEO, strategically contemplated a partnership that would take the Credit Union’s financial literacy efforts to another level altogether. He envisioned using The Berenstain Bears to teach young children about saving money. The idea was presented directly to Mike Berenstain, and his response was positive. This led to more conversations, meetings, and collaboration.
The result was an agreement by Berenstain Enterprises, Inc. to license the characters to FMFCU, allowing the Credit Union and Foundation to develop The Berenstain Bears Financial Literacy Program. This initially includes Bear Country Credit Union and The Berenstain Bears Cub Account, with more to come.
Speaking of Bear Country Credit Union, this unique interactive experience officially opened in April 2013. Now, when elementary school children visit FMFCU for a 90-minute tour, they see two credit unions — a “human” one and then Bear Country Credit Union. After a brief introduction by a Learning and Development team member, the children tour the Broomall Branch, where they talk with the branch manager, a teller and Member Relationship Advisor, learn about loans and deposits, count coins at the coin counter and even visit the vault.
Learning while playing
Then it’s off to Bear Country Credit Union! This colorful, interactive display complete with Berenstain Bear illustrations offers children a variety of ways to experience what running a credit union is like — while having fun.
“What brought everything to life was finding the architect who had done work on the Please Touch Museum and the Lorax Loft at the Philadelphia Zoo,” says Rick. “They turned our idea into an artistic concept, and we’re thrilled with it.”
To ensure students complete all stations while in Bear Country, they receive a Bear Country Credit Union passport. Stamped at key stations, it certifies the “bearer” was exposed to a complete experience at the Credit Union. The passport, which is to be shared with parents, also reinforces financial literacy at home. Parents and children are then encouraged to open The Berenstain Bears Financial Literacy Program Cub Account at any Credit Union branch, save money and make regular deposits. Children receive a $10 one-time match from FMFCU when they deposit the contents of their piggy bank, and again for a birthday month deposit.
Results show Bear Country is a huge hit
“We have gotten a lot of oohs and aahs from children and teachers,” Rick says. “The students pull up in a bus to an ordinary office building, but then enter a magical place. It surpasses their expectations.” Our story does not end there, though. The Berenstain Bears book that started this whole process now carries FMFCU branding and the Bears visit to the Credit Union. And for all those involved in planning Bear Country Credit Union, that is a happy ending.
Re-published from Choices® Magazine 2013 Special Edition
The Berenstain Bears® Copyright, Berenstain Enterprises, Inc. 2018.